There hasn't been much productivity in the passing game from the tight end position at Arizona State since Zach Miller departed following the 2006 season, but it's something Jamie Christian aims to change as he transitions to coaching the position after working with running backs the last two seasons.
Christian replaces Dan Cozzetto, who took a job at the University of Washington. His initial take on the tight ends group, after working with them in the spring, is positive.
"They surprised me," Christian said. "They played above themselves I felt. They are a lot more talented than I think people give them credit for.
"My main thing is always going to be blocking and toughness, which I feel coach Cozzetto -- that's what he does. What I feel they needed to work on and what I wanted to accomplish was a better knowledge of route running and just understanding coverages and where the holes are and I got a real good feeling that I emphasized that a little more and it helped them get better. They caught a lot more balls in the spring."
Offensive changes put in place in the off-season that give the offense a read-option component out of the shotgun should benefit the unit, according to Christian.
"They don't have to think as much so now they can play a little faster," Christian said of the offensive adjustments. "Before we had a lot of different blocking schemes with the tight end. Now we're trying to simplify that so they can play faster."
The team's top pass receiving threat out of the position is senior Jovon Williams, a sleek 6-4, 225-pounder who can play with his hand down or in the slot. Though Williams had just three catches for 33 yards last season, he's capable of making a big impact as a downfield receiver due to his ample speed and quickness.
"I didn't realize how good of a route runner Jovon is," Christian said. "He's getting better as a blocker and just being tougher at the line of scrimmage. He's not as big and as physical but what I kind of explained to him is if you get in a guy's face and show toughness you can have a little more success and then he started getting more confident and started playing with a lot better pad level and compete at a higher level and then at the end of the spring he started blocking."
Senior Stanley Malamala is more of a rugged blocking weapon at the line of scrimmage, but he's improved as a pass receiver in short to intermediate routes.
ASU's most versatile tight ends are sophomore Dan Knapp, who was showing great promise as a redshirt freshman last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury, and redshirt freshan Steven Figueroa.
Knapp had emerged as a potential starter prior to the injury and if healthy, he could easily move back into that role. He and Figueroa, who runs well and has a solid frame, will be fighting with incoming freshman Max Smith and Christopher Coyle on the depth chart, which, according to Christian, could see significant changes between the start of fall camp and the team's season opener.
"We're going to play the guys that give us the best chance to win regardless of how long they've been with us or anything like that," Christian said. "The best players play, and right now it's too early to really know who those guys are both because I'm somewhat new to working with them at the position and also because we're young and we don't have any guys who have proven themselves yet."